Black Books is a merrily cynical television comedy by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan.It was broadcast on Channel 4 between 2000 and 2004, starring Moran as Bernard Black, a foul-tempered Irish misanthrope who ostensibly runs a cluttered little London bookstore but rarely sells anything. (Because when people buy books, he sells books, and then he'd have to order books, and sell them again, and all that's just miserable.) Instead, he spends his time chain smoking, drinking cheap wine and verbally abusing everyone who crosses his path, especially his relentlessly excitable, somewhat naive assistant Manny Bianco (Bill Bailey). Bernard's friend and (rueful) one-time lover Fran Katzenjammer (Tamsin Greig) has limited success in making him occasionally stop being a total prat, but as she herself is a neurotic pessimistic drunk she can only do so much.Relied on A Simple Plan for pretty much all of its plots. The characters would decide to go to a party, or do their taxes, or write a children's book, or something, and would more or less use this as a springboard for a lot of bizarre and/or appalling behaviour, until they eventually failed, or at best broke even.Came fifty-eighth in Britain's Best Sitcom.Not to be confused with Black Book.
This show provides examples of
Airport Fantasy: Bernard sells Tempocalypse, a thriller about a single woman looking for love who has 12 hours to stop nuclear armageddon. His sales pitch lampshades its trashy appeal to both sexes.
The Alcoholic: Bernard and Fran. Fran's last name even means "hangover."
Alien Lunch: Bernard has lost so much of his sense of taste due to his cigarette habit that he mistakes a coaster for "some kind of delicious biscuit." He's also capable of consuming slug pellets and oven cleaner without complaining, and thinks that wall moulding and oven knobs would make good ingredients for a fancy meal.
Ambulance Chaser: Bernard agrees to be Fran's lawyer in order to threaten her next door neighbour with legal action, but with typical lawyer scruples and morals, he ends up falling in love with the neighbour instead and casually deriding Fran as "a mad bitch".
Answer Cut: "What was the situation? Had I been drinking?"
Fran: Bernard, I think you have something to say to Manny. Bernard: Manny, I'm sorry. (beat) ...I'm sorry I ever let you in here to rob me of my best years, before leaving me a burnt out husk!
Berserk Button: Completely random, unrelated things can cause Bernard to explode into an incendiary nervous meltdown. Such as pandas.
Manny: And erm, he plays the trombone! Bernard: Keep going, keep going! Manny: And he only eats liquorice! Bernard: Manny, this is solid gold, solid gold!! Manny: And his best friend is a panda! Bernard: NOOOOOOOOOOO NOOO NO!!! AWFUL!! BILGE! CHILD POISON!
Also, during the episode "Party":
Bernard: Can we go now? Manny: All set! Lets paaaaaa— Bernard: DON'T YOU DARE USE THE WORD "PARTY" AS A VERB IN THIS SHOP!
Bigger on the Inside: When stuck having dinner with Manny and his parents, Bernard drops his fork on purpose to escape; when he climbs under the table, it is then revealed that there is a bar concealed underneath, complete with bartender.
Bilingual Bonus: In the series finale of season 2, Bernard, Manny and Fran all end up in an airport with no idea what country they're in, so all three ask a barman a random question in a different language in an attempt to ascertain where they are. Bernard asks (in a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding accent, no less) "An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas?" - an Irish phrase meaning "May I go to the bathroom?", which is probably about the only phrase in the language that every native Irish person could reliably speak.
In the same episode, we learn that Fran's surname is "Katzenjammer", German slang for hangover.
Also, the identity of the strange products in Fran's shop in the Pilot can be figured out if you read the katakana on the boxes.
Also in the pilot, the last name of Bernard's accountant, "Voleur", is French for "Thief".
Bumbling Sidekick — All three of the main characters play the role at at least one point— they're often all as bad as each other.
Burger Fool: Bernard takes a job at a burger joint for a few hours just to get out of the rain. He looks so soul-crushingly depressed in the uniform that you'd think he'd lost self-awareness.
Bernard: Welcome to... the thing. Whatever this is.
Card Sharp: Fran turns out to have mad poker skillz that she uses to win back the £20,000 that Bernard lost in a series 3 episode.
The Cast Show Off: Bill Bailey's piano skills are a cornerstone of his stand-up act. Manny discovers to his shock that he can play any piece of music on hearing it once.
Ceiling Banger: Bernard has a go at being one. Unfortunately, he breaks a hole in the ceiling and showers a sleeping Fran in plaster.
Chekhov's Armory: In contrast to previous episodes in the series having an abundance of throwaway visual gags and one-liners, EVERY SINGLE item, discussion or person introduced in the first five minutes of The Big Lockout has some significance later on in the episode.
Over the course of a whole episode Manny eventually ends up looking like a Hammer HorrorIgor.
The first episode had him in a white (hospital) robe, with long flowing hair (well, it's Bill Bailey) and an expression of serenity from swallowing The Little Book of Calm, giving him such an aura of calm that he can soothe dogs and car alarms with a wave of his hand. Both a punch-drunk Bernard, and a pair of nervous Christians, mistake him for Jesus.
A third episode ends with all three wearing dark glasses due to hangovers, and Manny walking with a stick. A woman then comes in asking for donations for the blind.
Crazy Cat Lady: Fran's school friends confide in her that they all secretly expected her to become one.
Crazy-Prepared: The porn-shop owner, who apparently stocks specialist fetish titles like Senior Administrative Nurses as a matter of course.
Curse Cut Short: when Bernard is going through the multiple messages inviting Manny to a party;
*beep* Oh yeah, I forgot to mention... Manny, please don't bring that drunken Irish bast— * message deleted*
Also when Manny locks Bernard outside the soundproof door. When Manny holds up signs like "Oh no!", all that is heard of Bernard's angry rant is "WRITE SOMETHING USEFUL YOU STUPID FU—" before it cuts back behind the soundproofing.
Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Bernard pulls a common variation. He takes a spoonful of coffee from a full jar, then pours boiling water into the jar and drinks from that.
Manny's defection to Goliath Books is treated as if it was some sort of romantic abandonment.
Fran: So he's gone? Bernard: Oh, no, he still sleeps here. Burrowed in like the little tic he is. But he still leaves every day; every day is another betrayal.
Also, the plot of the first season finale has Manny leaving the bookshop and the whole thing is treated as if he was a teenage girl who's run away from home (picked up by a skeezy dude who takes creepy pictures of him, almost sold into, in line with the rest of the show's weirdness, the kind of prostitution where men pay to feel his beard).
Manny and Bernard's intervention over how many shoes Fran intends on taking on holiday is played as if they were in a Spy Thriller trying to deprogram a Manchurian Agent.
Door Focus: Happens when Fran says to Bernard that she never wants to see him again and storms out. Seconds later she comes back, her hand covering her eyes, saying "Forgot my purse".
Downer Ending: Depending on how much you sympathize with Bernard, it probably qualifies.
Drink Order: Red wine is much in abundance for all three characters.
DVD Commentary: A particularly brilliant one on the DVD, almost as quotable as the show itself:
Bill Bailey: If you got a sea urchin spine in your foot, you had to have someone wee on your foot, and the chemicals in your urine would extract the sea urchin spine. Dylan Moran: That's right, and if you get bitten by an elk in the face, you have to have somebody shit on your head.
"We will settle this... the Gypsy way!"
"It's like 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'; it's ambiguous."
"Don't you see, it's like 'Sleuth' — it's like 'Sleuth' and 'The Mousetrap...'" "But with the 'shit being forced through wicker' element?"
Eagleland: The American tourists who give Bernard's shop a visit hail from the second variety. They're used as inspiration for Fran and Manny's later impersonation of a pair of American tourists.
Tourist: Hey mister, you got anything on armouries, weaponry, that kind of thing?
Bernard: Military history is on your right.
Tourist: I don't want your little history grotto. I want modern warfare! Infrared! Fallout! Killzones!
Electrified Bathtub: Subverted for comedy. Manny uses an alarming number of electric devices while in the tub, including a toaster and a hairdryer. He even drops the latter into the water, but nothing happens, and he casually acknowledges his luck.
Expensive Glass Of Crap: After drinking the rare bottle of wine meant for the pope, Bernard and Manny attempt to "recreate" it using cheap wine and ingredients from around the house so no one will notice. It ends up subverted, as it kills the pope.
The Gambling Addict: Bernard becomes addicted to horse racing after Manny places a Grand National bet for him. He goes on to lose £20,000 - underwritten by the shop - in a poker game. Fortunately Fran and Manny, posing as American tourists, win it back.
Gargle Blaster: "Life Cry". Fran shows it to her friends and they fall silent, awed by what is apparently the most potent drink in the Black Books universe. As Fran remarks: "You know you're in for a good night when there's a picture of a polar bear bleeding on the label".
Gilligan Cut: Double Subverted. Manny, during his role as a model for Japanese beard fetish magazines, fervently insists that he will not accompany a Japanese businessman to the casino. Cut to... Black Books, where it appears that he's made good on this promise, until a £50 chip falls out of his pocket.
Good Cop/Bad Cop: Parodied wonderfully when Manny gets sucked into playing the good cop while interrogating a police suspect. His overly flattering comments, such as, "You have lovely eyes," unsettle the perp enough to confess.
It verges on "Goodcop/insanecop" as the perp finally loses it at Manny's desperate confession that he's only pretending to be a cop and is in waaayyyy over his head makes the perp feel like he's honestly trapped in an interrogation room with a crazy person.
Grammar Nazi: "Don't you dare use the word "party" as a verb in this shop!"
Ha Ha Ha No: Manny's creepy new boss in "Manny Come Home" laughs with him and then yells "I'M REALLY ANGRY NOW!"
Hangover Sensitivity: A frequent gag, given the amount of red wine the characters are always chugging. However, special mention goes to "The Entertainer", where the characters' dark glasses are part of a Coincidental Accidental Disguise that leads some charity fundraisers to think they're all blind.
Happy Place: Bernard's is apparently a bar. Under a table.
Jerkass Woobie: Bernard, as is revealed in the final episode of the series.
Kavorka Man: Despite being a filthy, friendless sociopath, Bernard does end up bagging the gorgeous brunette Kate. It's also hinted he's had casual sex with Fran in the past, and was also engaged to be married to "Emma".
Also Manny, who has no female contact other than Fran for the entire series except for cute blonde Rowena in the very last episode, who he magically ends up sleeping with.
Both men are clearly scared of girls and are absolutely pathetic in expressing their feelings to them.
Lady Drunk: Fran Katzenjammer. Fittingly, her last name means "hangover" in German.
Large Ham: Bernard with his explosive rants and his preference for smashing things up in times of stress. Manny has his moments as well.
Mad Scientist: Bernard briefly becomes one while trying to make "super-wine."
Bernard: Now let's see here... an oaky finish... Oak? OAK! TO THE GARDEN!
Also hilariously supplemented by Manny as The Igor after breaking his tooth (Giving him a muffled voice), having his nerves spasmed by a massage machine (making him hunch over) and getting cramp in his leg due to stress, giving him a limp.
Manny told his parents he had a girlfriend and had made partner in the bookshop. Then they came to visit...
Manny hiding in a piano to support Fran's pretence that she can play.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Bernard tries to invoke this with his summer girlfriend, who he plans to use and then throw away when fall comes around...but she ends up thinking he's mental and dumps him.
Meaningful Name: Grumpy misanthrope Bernard's surname is "Black", while his cheerful assistant Manny's surname is "Bianco", meaning "white" in Italian. Their dipsomaniac friend and neighbour Fran's surname is "Katzenjammer", German slang for "hangover".
Mediation Backfire: Bernard and Manny take time out from an argument to insult Fran, and end up resolving their own differences in the process. Until she leaves, whereupon they start it up again.
Men Can't Keep House: To the point where Bernard and Manny have to vacate the shop for a few days while the cleaner sorts it out; even sweeping his finger around in the air covered it in dust. In a later episode, after Manny moves out, it only gets worse, as the shop gets hopelessly cluttered with books and garbage and a dead badger, and Bernard has to yell directions through it all from the living area.
Messy Hair: Bernard's appearance matches that of the shop.
Metaphorgotten: When Manny works at Goliath Books, his manager makes one:
Evan: You see, selling books is a game. It has rules. And you need to learn those rules and get serious about them, because it's not a game.
Mistaken for Gay: Subverted. At their first meeting, Manny mistakenly believes Bernard to be gay, to which Bernard casually acknowledges that he himself made this mistake "for a bit", but changed his mind after discovering the apparently unreachable high standards of hygiene, "and all that dancing".
Mistaken For Romance: In "The Blackout" Fran sees her boyfriend having dinner with another woman (who turns out to be his sister) and showing affection for her.
Especially so in Series 3 — when Manny refuses to come back and Bernard becomes a hermit, Fran is forced to drink and smoke around two doll versions of them. In other words, she has nothing to do and no-one else to be with unless they bicker, smoke and drink together.
Overly Preprepared Gag - the three subplots of the piano episode involve all three of them donning sunglasses for different reasons, only for a collector for the blind to show up the the end of the episode.
Doubly ironic considering how all three of them must possess a newfound hatred for the blind after being forced to feign to play piano (or climb inside and play with spoons) for the benefit of three blind piano teachers.
Object Ceiling Cling: The show was the inspiration for the creation of the trope. Manny sees a piece of toast stuck to the ceiling whilst he is calling a cleaner. Later in the same episode, Bernard casually skims a slice of toast with jam at the ceiling.
Reaching Between the Lines: Manny attempts to show the cleaning company he's talking to on the phone just how dirty the bookshop is by pointing the receiver at the room.
Reduced to Ratburgers: A variation — when Manny leaves Bernard in "Manny Come Home", he's reduced to eating whatever he can to survive. This includes things like eating a strip of old cheese Fran stepped in and the mushrooms that grow in his hair.
Also in "The Big Lock Out" where Manny, locked in the shop with no food, is forced to consume bumblebees spit-roasted over old cigarette butts.
Relative Error: Committed by Fran. She thinks her boyfriend's cheating on her; he's actually taking his sister out to lunch because she lost her job.
Refuge in Audacity: Fran convincing Bernard that his supposedly dead former fiancée, isn't. It starts with Fran showing Bernard her full name in her phone. It then escalates to Fran showing him Emma's Dental Records, a Birth Certificate and a picture of Emma wearing an "I Love Life" t-shirt and holding a copy of that day's newspaper.
Spit Take: A drunken Manny pops out from under the table with pigtails, causing Bernard to spray 20 year old vintage Vin du Rosier (worth £7000) all over the table like a broken hose. Probably the most expensive spit-take in history.
Trashcan Bonfire: Bernard and Manny burn the children's book they write in one of these.
Trash of the Titans: A Running Gag, but played up particularly in "The Grapes of Wrath". "North corner, cobwebs containing a number of deceased arachnids... with beans". Later he sweeps his finger through thin air and it comes away black with dust.
Manny starts to miss Bernard when he goes to work for creepy boss Evan at Goliath Books.
Fran disapproves of Bernard's behaviour when he tries to be a bit less miserable: "Look! I can do fun!"
What Did I Do Last Night?: Bernard frequently gets alcohol-induced memory gaps for comic effect (see the quote below) but this plot was the particular focus of the episode where he tries to work out why his oldest friend blanked him in the street.
Bernard: I don’t remember that. Fran: Do you remember that night last week when you slept in a revolving door? Bernard: ...no. Fran: Okay, do you remember when you ran out of tobacco so you smoked your own pubic hair? Bernard: Not especially, no. Fran: It was in between those two things.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Fran's shop is shown early in the first season and occasionally mentioned a few times thereafter. Suddenly in the second season, she mentions her shop closed with no explanation. It also leaves her without a visible source of income (except for her short-lived office job) for the rest of the series. but this never seems to bother her.
Who Would Want to Watch Us?: When considering going to the cinema, Bernard reads out a review of a film whose premise is practically identical to the show's - to groans from all.
Wimp Fight: Bernard and Fran settle their differences with a fight, which involves them turning their heads away and slapping each other childishly until Fran twists Bernard's arm behind his back and pulls his hair.
You Do Not Want To Know: Manny refuses to say what happens to him if the temperature reaches 88 degrees, referring to his condition only as "Dave's Syndrome." It turns out it involves a war dance on top of a car, naked save for a strategically-placed hot water bottle and "Eat Me" written on his chest.